For years, salespeople have chanted the “ABC” refrain of “Always be closing.” For pioneering companies, ABC could stand for “Always be changing.” The ability to adapt to, and stay ahead of, shifting conditions can help position an organization as an innovator—and a success.
South Africa–based Gelvenor Textiles recognized the need to become nimble as circumstances changed in the markets it targeted. The company started as an outright commodity manufacturer, then evolved as it entered into more specialized markets for military textiles, ballistics, aeronautical and industrial applications.
By the late 1990s and early 2000s, Gelvenor was experiencing strong growth in these markets and made a strategic decision to restructure the business to be more technically oriented. Around the same time, South Africa opened up to become a free market.
“This collapsed the clothing and textile industry, forcing many companies to reinvent themselves or drastically downsize to remain price competitive,” says Sefton Fripp, innovation and marketing manager at Gelvenor Textiles. “From this process, the new Gelvenor was born, smarter, leaner and more focused.”
Making it work
A threefold view on innovation—revolutionary, evolutionary and devolutionary—has resulted in market-leading products. Gelvenor lays claim to developing the first microfiber low-bulk parachute fabrics in 2002. The company has created a lighter parachute fabric that allows for a 15 percent to 20 percent reduction in pack volume without compromising on strength, as well as a patented conveyor belt fabric developed for the mining sector that not only lasts longer but also cuts costs by reducing energy consumption.
The key to evolving a business or product line is to do so purposefully, as Tukwila, Wash.-based Rainier Industries has found since it first supplied tents to prospectors heading north during the Alaska Gold Rush in 1896. The company’s mix of offerings has grown primarily through acquisitions of companies whose products are a good fit for Rainier’s experience working with industrial fabric, according to CEO Scott Campbell.
“We built the fabric wall coverings for a local yurt company until we eventually acquired them and now build yurts,” Campbell says. “And we started distributing awnings and screen products in the Seattle area, but realized we could build a better product and acquired a company with an already excellent product that we were able to improve upon.”
Companies that commit to innovation have demonstrated a third version of the ABCs: Always be creative. And knowing your ABCs provides a fundamental framework upon which to build.